How the Public Views Climate Action

The public continues to support a federal action to address climate change.

A poll released last month probed American attitudes toward climate change.  The poll was released after the Obama Administration issued its proposed rules for existing power plants to loud cries of protest from industry.  The poll was conducted by Stanford University and Resources for the Future, a highly regarded think tank.  At the time, the press reported the poll as finding Americans unconvinced that limiting emissions would hurt the economy.  But the finding was actually much stronger.  Nearly half of Americans (46%) believe that taking action to reduce greenhouse gases would help the economy, with another quarter (23%) seeing no impact on the economy.

There were some other significant findings as well. Three-quarters of Americans understand that the world has gotten warmer over the past century.  There is some confusion over the causes, however, with a third understanding that the change is caused by humans and about half mistakenly thinking that natural causes also played a role.  There is clearly room for better education here.

The public also supports federal action to reduce carbon emissions.  Roughly 90% see a federal role in addressing climate change, with half thinking the government should do “a great deal” or “quite a bit”, while another quarter think the government should do a moderate amount.  Only 10% think the government should do nothing. In particular, there is support for reducing emissions from power plants, the subject of the new regulations. Over three-quarters think the government should take steps to reduce emissions from power plants.  Half of Americans think this should be done by regulation, another quarter endorse tax incentives.

The poll doesn’t show the kind of broad public support for climate action that might be needed for new legislation.  But legislative inertia favors EPA on this issue, while its opponents need to muster support for legislative action.  As House Republicans are seeking to prevent EPA action, the poll should give some sense of political comfort to the agency’s supporters.


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Reader Comments

4 Replies to “How the Public Views Climate Action”

  1. The headline needs to be corrected. It should read:

    The public continues to support a federal action to ADDRESS climate change.

  2. Imagine a world in which EPA’s proposed GHG rules are nothing more than a distant memory relegated to dusty piles of papers – obscure and forgotten.This coming November we will have a nationwide poll which offers a splendid opportunity for a solution to the problem of climate change. Have we finally turned the tide? Why should we curb our enthusiasm? Smile and have a great day. Give roses and drink champagne. Hurry November.

  3. As we hear of the “dreadful” economuic impact of carbon controls costing as much as $50 Bn / yr (from the Chamber of Commerce), it is worth noting, in comparison, that a few years ago, “Winnie the Pooh” branded items did a worldwide business of about $5 Bn/yr. (Wonder what Elmo does?)

    Looks like carbon controls are, at worst, chump change.

  4. I’m amazed that anyone would pay any attention whatsoever to polling on any question given the bias of polls generally. Theres commercial and industry bias driving public opinions in the media and again there is bias skewing polling [by design]. Moreover to what extent is public opinion worth considering anyway? Why should opinion matter on a question of science like Global Heating? You dont ask your mother about car repairs– you ask a car mechanic. Likewise, you should poll reasonably well informed opinions, eg, those of the IPCC and other scientists who know something about it eg James Hanson, James Lovelock, Kerry Emanuel, etc?

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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